Enriching the blended learning mixture

October 21st 2014

It was stimulating to see and hear lots of new ideas for learning practices and tools at Learning Live last month, where CLS sponsored the “Our Future” stream of presentations and discussions.

Our favourites include Owen Ferguson (@owenferguson) on “Agile Development” and Andrew Jacobs (@AndrewJacobsLD) with his “5 Ideas”.  Owen was challenging L&D to focus on client collaboration throughout the course of a project rather than negotiating a rigid definition of deliverables up-front; then Andrew set out 5 big ideas before handing over to the audience to produce 50 smaller, more workable ideas from the big themes.  This was a real practical demonstration of challenging people not to be passive listeners to perceived wisdom but collaborate to develop and own the output relevant to their situation.

Many of the new ideas involve, or even revolve around, social learning, using the fact that nowadays nearly everyone regularly interacts and shares using mobile and online media.  Social learning tools tap into this behaviour to create platforms where users can share tips and learn from each other regularly and at the time of need.

The attraction of social learning as the silver bullet should not make us forget the continuing value of blended learning within many organisations however.  Consider the case of implementing enterprise software, such as SAP, where clarity on the key processes to be followed is essential – for example to ensure business continuity or to meet legal requirements for financial reporting or personnel management; formal learning (whether face-to-face or in a virtual classroom) in such circumstances is often an effective method for helping end-users to adopt new ways of working and ensure compliance.  Or consider a new hire who needs familiarisation with new business processes and transactions which are different from what she has used before, where point of need simulations or a small nugget of e-learning may be the most appropriate approach.

The most appropriate learning approach also depends on the culture of the organisation.  Social learning requires, at the very least, endorsement by senior management so that employees are enabled to use social tools to communicate on business issues.  To have maximum effect, senior management should be championing the use of social learning in a structured business framework so as to make the most of their employees’ enthusiasm, creativity and collaboration.

So social learning does not completely replace traditional learning methods.  It becomes another ingredient in the blended learning mix – a valuable mind-set that can enrich the learning environment. To quote Julian Stodd (@julianstodd) “Social learning is a term that we can use to describe the semi formal layers of sense making that surround formal learning activities.”

Social learning can supplement traditional methods to begin with, in order to help organisations take initial steps and test out the concepts in their own environment.  For example, staff can be introduced to particular sections of the learning topics and given the time and tools to work together in groups to share the learning.  Assessment of the results will allow the organisation to become more confident in this approach and so willing to expand its use.

The CLS philosophy is to engage early and collaborate in client plans, whether it be for new implementations, upgrades or ongoing sustainment programmes.  Every organisation has its own needs and so it is important to plan the delivery methods and implementation plans up front.  Social learning tools are now part of the methods we can propose and then implement and will become a more important element over time.  We will be sharing our thoughts in a webinar in a few weeks’ time – follow @CLSPerformance on Twitter to find out more.

In summary we believe that, while social learning has been around since the time of Homer, online and mobile social learning approaches are still in their infancy in terms of organisational and user acceptance.  They are nevertheless playing an increasing role as part of a fully comprehensive Blended Learning offering.


blended learningcollaborationAndrew JacobsJulian StoddOwen FergusonLearning Liveagile developmentsocial learning


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